Paul Moran

For 30 years, more than 22 at Newsday, in New York, Paul Moran has covered thoroughbred racing on its highest level. During that time, he has covered 30 Triple Crown series, every running of the Breeders' Cup Championships, 23 race meetings at Saratoga, won two Eclipse Awards, a Red Smith Award for coverage of the Kentucky Derby and other writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Editors, Long Island Press Club, Society of Silurians (the oldest press club in New York), Long Island Veterinary Medical Association, Florida Magazine Publishers Association.

In 2002, he was named New York's best thoroughbred handicapper by the New York Press in its annual "Best of Manhattan" edition. His work has appeared in virtually every racing publication published in the United States and most major American newspapers. He is a licensed owner of thoroughbreds in New York Contact:

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Only in Hong Kong: Protecting the betting public

HONG KONG -- Much of what makes Hong Kong the model for what racing should be is beyond the reach of American racetrack operators, but not everything.

True, a monopoly that puts racing, the lottery and wagering on international soccer matches deposits every dollar wagered legally in a city of seven million that gambles with a verve seen in few other places, all in Asia, affords financial resources that permit constant upgrading of the two racetracks operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is also the principal support of much of the regions social welfare, educational and medical research organizations as well as hospitals, parks schools and even the SPCA. No other racing association on the planet has such resources.

But other facets of racing in Hong Kong can be duplicated elsewhere. Admission is $10 roughly $1.29 American. Food and beverage at Happy Valley, which also houses two nightclubs, and Sha Tin, are priced at or below the levels that prevail in the community, a fact especially incongruous to veterans of the $15.95 chili dog at Saratoga and the $7 cup of beer at New York racetracks. And and this is an important element of wagering in Hong Kong the Jockey Club is aware of the concerns and protection of the betting public.

You have to realize that the punters are the customers, a Hong Kong Jockey Club executive said, and you have to take care of the customers.

Despite large live crowds, only eight percent of the money wagered on races run in Hong Kong is bet on-site and this is the home of off-course professionals armed with sophisticated analytical software and high-speed Internet connections who arbitrage the pools. In the United States, such bettors more acurately described as investors have been largely cut off. Not here. They are customers and part of a cauldron of wagering action that reaches monumental proportions. But, when wagering on a particular horse or combination is especially or unexpectedly heavy, that information is made known by announcement and color coding on tote boards and video displays so, no one is surprised. When the win payoff, known here as the dividend will be unexpectedly low due to a large parlay, called a rollup, an announcement is made that the reason for the short price is a large rollup investment and that fact is made known by color coding. Redundant information assures that no one misses the point.

Difficult? No. Expensive? Not at all. Good idea? Very.

The bedrock idea is that bettors should not be unpleasantly surprised.

What a concept.

When there is a surprise, it is always followed by questions from those in authority.

Take back on a speed horse?

The jockey and usually the trainer will be standing before the stewards immediately after the race.

Send a closer to the lead?

Finish an even fourth on the betting favorite?

Ride into a blind switch when there is an alternative.

Same thing -- an immediate inquiry.

Whenever there is a change of tactic, a disappointing performance, a questionable effort by a jockey it will be followed by an immediate inquiry -- pointed questions that demand believable answers.

Again, the bettors should not be surprised.

The stipendiary stewards address these issues in detailed reports written after every race run in Hong Kong and these are published in the mainstream press. Hong Kong newspapers, of which there are many published in both Chinese and English, cover racing here in painstaking detail. The stewards reports, conclusions and resultant actions are widely disseminated.

When appropriate, fines and suspension are severe and repeated violations will ultimately result in banishment. The infrequent positive drug test since veterinarians are employees of the Jockey Club which also dispenses what little medication is permitted only for training are dealt with harshly.

All this is in the interest of the bettor the customer who you must be take care of, a message unfortunately lost in the United States.

Written by Paul Moran

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

No drugs, no Americans

Hong Kong-- Whats wrong with this picture?

Four Grade I races worth HK$62-million (US$8.1m); horses, including the European and Australian horses of the year, representing nine countries; these races to be run on Sunday at what may be the worlds most technologically advanced racetrack, Sha Tin.

When the Hong Kong Jockey Club staged the barrier draw for the Hong Kong Sprint, Mile, Vase and Cup on Thursday beneath a soaring retractable roof that shelters the Sha Tin parade ring and surrounding amphitheater from the fickle whim of nature, not one American horse was in the mix zero. Only one horse bred in the United States, a Hong Kong-owned five-year-old gelding named Good Ba Ba, will run here on Sunday.

American turf horses are capable of competing at this level. Two who will run in the Vase on Sunday, Dylan Thomas and Red Rocks, were defeated by the now-retired English Channel in the Breeders Cup Turf. Another, Excellent Art, was runner-up to Kip Deville in the Breeders Cup Mile.

The obvious excuses: After the Breeders Cup, the American racing season is over. No American horse has ever won an international race in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is too far away.

The obvious and worn excuses simply do not withstand scrutiny.

The European racing season is also essentially over, yet horses from France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and France are here along with others representing Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the fast-improving cream of Hong Kong horses. The Hong Kong Jockey Club makes it easy and inexpensive to run for very large purses, paying the expenses of shipping, housing the essential help and connections, providing lavish entertainment. The winner of the Breeders Cup Mile would, were he here, be in line to win a $1-million bonus were he able to repeat in the Hong Kong Mile.

The reason at the heart of the absence of even a single American horse from an event that has become imminently prestigious in international racing circles: Drugs.

The entries for this year's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races are exceptional and illustrate how the meeting has matured into the Turf World Championships. We have developed a fixture on the international racing calendar, one that clearly features the worlds leading owners, trainers, jockeys and horses as a championship event, said Bill Nader, former New York Racing Association senior vice president now Executive Director of Racing at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The entries, however, come exclusively from nations that prohibit the use of medication in horses for racing, which is diametrically opposed to the deeply entrenched the American policies that permit a wide variety of medications.

There was great interest in the Breeders Cup Mile in Hong Kong. The race, in anticipation that the winner would appear here on Sunday, was simulcast at roughly 3:30 a.m. But when Kip Deville won, the air rushed from that balloon. Although an appearance here would have been an immense public relation score for the owners, IHEA Stable, which sells high-end racing partnerships to investors who have exactly this sort of thing in mind, Kip Deville, who is trained by Rick Dutrow, often afoul of even the relatively permissive medication rules in the United States, would be 1-9 to test positive for something or several things after racing here.

Between the Breeders Cup and Hong Kong races, there is simply too little time to clean out the system of a typical American-trained horse and no guarantee that a horse with medication-enabled form would be capable of reproducing anything close while racing in an unfamiliar drug-free state.

So, while the racing world becomes increasingly global, racing in the planets lone remaining superpower is becoming increasingly isolated, a trend not lost of those involved in international competition -- the same people buying the best American horses. In fact, American bloodlines are prominent among the horses racing here on Sunday, highly placed in the pedigrees of offspring capable of racing without medication and now removed from the American thoroughbred gene pool.

Where will this lead?

Absolutely nowhere except the application of further tarnish to the image of American racing in the rest of the world, an image worthy of such blemish, which if it hasnt already, threatens to pass the point of repair.

Written by Paul Moran

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hong Kong: Where the government-racing partnership actually works

Early on in the long process of determining the future of racing in New York, the not-for-profit business model under which the New York Racing Association was founded was the subject of much debate.

Supporters of the status-quo held up Keeneland and the Oak Tree Racing Association as best-case examples. Opponents held up the lack of profit motive as the reason for the absence of profit. There are arguments to be made in support of both models and it may also be argued that the interference of government, which as proprietor of the lottery is a competitor in the gambling marketplace and the structure of off-track betting, also a government-owned competitor in the racing marketplace, makes either model unprofitable.

The business model that works is a partnership of government and racing interests that exists only in Asia, which is more now than ever a part of the international racing landscape that becomes increasingly important as races such as the recent Japan Cup and next Sundays International Races in Hong Kong become objectives of owners who grasp the widening opportunities presented by such events the large operations based in Europe and Middle East more so than those in the United States.

At roughly the same time that the racetrack operators of New York banded together to form NYRA, the British government looked to the colony it had originally acquired among the spoils of the Opium Wars and granted what was then known as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club a gambling monopoly in what is now, having been returned to the original owner in 1999, a special administrative region of China.

Originally founded in 1884 when racing was undertaken at Happy Valley on the site of what had been a malarial swamp, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the oldest of Hong Kong institutions and easily the most valued and respected. The social welfare, educational and research organizations, parks and medical facilities built and operated with funds provided by the Jockey Club, which maintains two racetracks, more than 100 off-track betting offices, the lottery and fixed-odds wagering on overseas soccer games, are virtually everywhere in Hong Kong. Racing supports much of life in Hong Kong and a culture steeped in gambling supports racing with enthusiasm seen nowhere outside Asia.

In the old days, when Hong Kong was a British colony, it was said that the true power in the territory rested with the Jockey Club, the Hong Kong Bank and the British governor in that order. The maxim was always made in jest, but there was more than a kernel of truth to it. Washington Times, April 2000.

Little has changed with transfer to control to the government in Beijing, which promised with the British handover to maintain a hands-off policy for 50 years. The new entrepreneurial culture on the mainland has always been a way of life in Hong Kong and the stature of the horses developed there had risen steeply in recent years with overseas victories in Japan, Australia, Europe and Dubai, the fruit of a concerted and successful effort to raise Hong Kongs profile in international racing circles.

The races run at Sha Tin on Sunday the Hong Kong Cup, Hong Kong Mile. Hong Kong Vase and Hong Kong Sprint will be seen by roughly 85,000 people who will wager more on every race on the card than is risked on an entire day of racing in New York. Hong Kong is an example of less being more. With only two racing programs a week from September until June, the live audience is diluted by neither the presence of off-track wagering nor the numbing overkill of a year-round, every-day racing year. No American horses will race. Kip Deville earned an automatic position in the Mile by virtue of his victory in the Breeders Cup Mile but his connections declined. Trainer Rick Dutrow is well known for running afoul of mediation rules in the United States and would certainly be a dire risk in Hong Kong, where no medication is permitted for racing.

Still, Dylan Thomas, Excellent Art and Red Rocks, all of whom raced at Monmouth Park in the Breeders Cup, are at Sha Tin in the company of a cadre of European, Australian and Asian horses for Sundays races, which have gained marked importance in recent years though, within the decidedly not internationally inclined U.S., has gone largely unnoticed.

Written by Paul Moran

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